Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: … [that] the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form[s] the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case. ” (Engels , 467).
Engels’ eulogy, delivered at Marx’s burial in 1883, is an assertion of Marx’s pre-eminent role as a theorist of development in general and of the fundamental importance of economic development for Marxism. This essay briefly outlines Marx’s own ideas on the process and the ways in which later Marxists have built on and adapted these ideas. Marx viewed human history as a giant spiral tracing the development of the productivity of labour (the forces of production) in relation to the changing social structure within which production took place (the social relations of production).
The forces of production tend to grow through history[ii], although at varying speeds depending on whether the social relations create a favourable or unfavourable climate for material progress. At key moments the forces of production find themselves held back by the form of society and this creates pressure for revolutionary transition from one social system to another, for instance from feudalism to capitalism, which was to play a pivotal role in the development of human history.
Being a system driven by the pursuit of profit in competitive conditions, capitalism would impel a sharp acceleration in the development of the productive forces to such an extent that the universal elimination of want and of involuntary labour could become possible. But capitalism was also a uniquely unequal system, polarizing people into a minority of property owners and a majority of propertyless proletarians.
Under capitalism the elimination of want was potential, only realizable after a transition to a fully socialist society. In that way Marx envisioned human society both advancing along the axis of scientific and material progress while at the same time following a circular movement from primitive communism, through various forms of class society and ultimately to a new communism and equality which would be combined with an advanced state of development of the forces of production[iii].
Marx regarded capitalism as a system which is abhorrent because it rests on exploitation and generates inequality but historically progressive because it brings about an unprecedented development of the productive forces and creates its own “gravediggers”, the propertyless working class. From his early writings until the publication of the first volume of Capital in 1867, Marx had three great expectations. The first (repetition) was that the rapid capitalist industrialization which he observed in Britain would soon be repeated in other parts of the world. The country that is more developed industrially” he wrote, “only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future. ” (Marx ).. The second expectation (universalization) was that the spread of capitalist growth would lead not to independent capitalist countries but to a single, unified interdependent system. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels expounded a famous vision of the way capitalism would pervade the globe: The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. …
All old-established national industries … are dislodged by new industries … that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. … In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. (Marx and Engels ) The third expectation (utopia) was that a revolutionary proletariat would “expropriate the expropriators” and install a society of freedom, both freedom from want and freedom for humans to realize their capacities. In this utopia[iv] the existing division of labour would end, multi-faceted work would “become not only a means of life but life’s prime want” and “society [could] inscribe on its banners: from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! ” (Marx 1985) II Second thoughts?
Marx’s favourite motto was ‘de omnibus dubitandum’ and his later writings often hint at some second thoughts about all three of his development expectations. This was not only because events were moving slower than he had foreseen; his theoretical work, too, began to suggest possible contradictions with his earlier predictions. The urgent and universalist tone which suffused earlier writings gave way to more complex treatments of the forces leading to monopoly and capitalist concentration and to economic crisis which might slow or halt capitalist growth before it had created the productive basis for communism.
The main pressure to rethink his expectations came from problems in applying Marxist ideas to contemporary politics. Among those were his attitudes to British imperialism in India, the question of national liberation in general and prospects of a transition to socialism in Russia. Marx had initially believed that: “England … in causing a social revolution in Hindoostan, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question.
The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution”. (Marx [1853a]) He confidently predicted that “[t]he millocracy [industrial capitalists] have discovered that the transformation of India into a reproductive country has become of vital importance to them and that, to that end … [t]hey intend now drawing a net of railroads over India. And they will do it. ” (Marx [1853b])
In later years Marx came to give more weight to the crimes and less to the hope of economic transformation, becoming more supportive of the anti-colonial struggle. By 1881, two years before this death, both the tone and the content had shifted: “What the British take … from them (the Indians) without any equivalent … amounts to more than the total sum of the income of the 60 million of agricultural and industrial labourers of India. This is a bleeding process with a vengeance”. (Marx, 1968) There was a parallel evolution in Marx and Engels’ attitude towards other nationalist movements which they had once opposed.
They supported Irish self-rule because the failure to settle the Irish question was threatening working class unity in Britain, the country where they had high hopes for the development of socialism: “the national emancipation of Ireland is no question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment but the first condition of [English workers’] own social emancipation” (Marx, 1975). And their support for Polish national liberation was premised on the belief that it would weaken Tsarist Russia, the regime they regarded as the main bastion of reaction in Europe.
Nationalism, then, was supported in order to neutralize a cause of fissure in the proletarian movement or to weaken a particular section of the international ruling class, but not because of any general belief in the necessity of national capitalist development strategies. Marx was an fierce critic of the writings of Friedrich List (1856), advocate of a nationalist and protectionist development strategy for Germany and the United States (see Cowen and Shenton 1996, 154–69), and never abandoned the idea that the development should be universal.
In 1881 the Russian revolutionary Vera Zasulik sought Marx’s guidance on the debate between Russian Marxists advocating capitalist development and the Narodniks who believed that capitalism could not develop Russia and who therefore argued for a transition to socialism based on existing peasant communes. The question clearly perplexed Marx and his reaction was not to reassert his earlier opinions; after serious study of the question he penned no less than five drafts of his reply to Zasulik without reaching a definitive position (Shanin, 1983).
Some have seen these intimations of diminished expectations as fitting into a coherent whole with alongside earlier apparently more optimistic ideas (for instance, Melotti, 1977) ; others have seen Marx edging towards radically different positions (in different ways, Booth, 1985; Lim, 1992; and Shanin, 1983). Marx was certainly prepared to re-examine the three original expectations in the light of historical events and to espouse more flexible political tactics.
While his thinking evidently evolved there is no convincing evidence that he fundamentally changed the idea of the ambiguous progressiveness of capitalism, the opposition to national paths to development or the nature of the socialist objective of development[v]. Nonetheless, in examining the situation in Russia, Marx had been obliged to face the possibility that capitalism might not accomplish the development of the whole world. The implication of that possibility was that perhaps something other than capitalism would have to shoulder the task of developing the productive forces – a question later followers would have to confront.
III Marx’s followers – development and imperialism 15 years after Marx’s death Lenin still argued against the Narodniks that capitalism in Russia, although brutal and truncated, was historically progressive, implying that the revolutionary impulse would come from the working class (Lenin, 1977). Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development was a complementary way of seeing Russian peculiarities in the context of Marx’s expectations. History, he argued, did not proceed as an exact series of simultaneous transformations or even repetitions in backward ountries (Trotsky, 1969 and 1977. The latter could advance unevenly in leaps; separate steps in the journey of development in the more advanced countries might be combined together in more backward ones resulting in “an amalgam of archaic with more contemporary forms” (Trotsky, 1977, 27). Trotsky used this idea to explain both why technologically backward Russia, could be politically advanced and also why the revolution was necessarily international.
An economically backward revolutionary nation could take advantage of the forces of production in the more advanced nations[vi]. The central question confronted by Marxists in the generation which followed Marx was imperialism (for a survey, see Brewer, 1990). By the first years of the twentieth century nationalist and protectionist forms of development, exactly the kind of repetition which List had supported and Marx opposed, had produced a small group of leading countries contending for world hegemony, and ruling over rival empires.
This was what Lenin called Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism (Lenin ), the title of a book promoting the idea that World War I was an inter-capitalist struggle in which the working classes should oppose their own bourgeoisies, turning the inter-imperialist war into a series of revolutionary civil wars. Imperialism reached the conclusion that in an overall sense this “monopoly stage” of capitalism could no longer be considered progressive – not because economic development in all countries would cease but because competition and war between the leading imperialist powers would destroy more than capitalism could create.
Permanent inter-capitalist fratricide fatally wounded Marx’s vision of universalization under capitalist relations. This analysis would be a major part of the theoretical background to the political strategy which led to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution; in ditching the universalization expectation Lenin transformed the nature of the utopian one. Lenin’s book and that of his fellow Bolshevik Nicolai Bukharin  were influenced by the Social Democrat Rudolf Hilferding whose remarkable Finance Capital was published in 1910 (Hilferding, 1981).
Building on Marx’s later writings, Hilferding furnished a detailed analysis of the new monopoly stage of capitalism. Finance capital was the bloc formed in all leading countries between industrial, commercial and banking capital – a “holy trinity”, to which the state became the slavish servant. Hilferding argued that the epoch of finance capital meant that Marx’s repetition expectation had only been realized in a limited number of countries and that to some extent it had been replaced by new obstacles to the development of weaker countries.
He sounded a whole series of pre-echoes of views which later became commonplace: “As long as the export of capital served primarily for the construction of a transport system and the development of consumer goods industries in a backward country, it contributed to the economic development, in a capitalist form, of that country. Even so, … [t]he bulk of the profit flowed abroad … [which] slows down enormously the pace of accumulation, and hence the further development of capitalism, in the debtor country. In large economic territories … a national assimilation of foreign capital soon occurred. In the small economic territories, however, this assimilation was more difficult to achieve, because an indigenous capitalist class emerged much more slowly and with greater difficulty. Such emancipation became quite impossible when the character of capital exports changed, and the capitalist class in the large economic territories became less concerned with establishing consumer goods industries in foreign countries than with acquiring control over raw materials for their ever growing producers’ goods industries. [The] capitalist development [of the weaker European countries], and along with it their political and financial development, was stunted at the outset. As economic tributaries of foreign capital, they also became second-class states, dependent on the protection of the great powers. ” (Hilferding, 1981, p. 329–30) Rosa Luxemburg, another theorist of imperialism of this epoch also saw the export of capital as prejudicial to peripheral countries (such as Egypt and South Africa), especially to their poorer classes who were usually required to repay the debts incurred and wasted by their rulers (Luxemburg, 1951).
But her theory of imperialism was only remotely connected with those of Hilferding, Bukharin and Lenin. Arguing that capitalism suffered from a permanent shortage of demand (underconsumptionism), Luxemburg concluded that it was forced to avert collapse by absorbing non-capitalist areas and activities. Imperialism had nothing to do with monopoly or with nations; it was a systemic imperialism of capitalism as a mode of production, rapaciously seeking its surplus value from other modes of production.
But this process – really a version of Marx’s primary or primitive accumulation – could not continue indefinitely since once the non-capitalist world was completely absorbed then the system would collapse. While she did not share Lenin’s view that capitalism had changed from a progressive to a retrogressive system, Luxemburg did for different reasons share his opinion that human society was approaching a precipice in which all the historical development of the productive forces would be threatened and the choice was between “socialism or barbarism”.
In this they both differed from many conservative socialists who continued to believe that capitalism, left largely to itself, would develop the productive forces and the working class until socialism became both feasible and inevitable. Somewhere between the two currents, stood Karl Kautsky, who argued, to Lenin’s fury, that the epoch of conflict of the great powers would give way to a period of cooperation between them (Kautsky, 1970). This “ultraimperialism” would in many ways be worse than imperialism especially for the less developed areas of the world which would be collectively exploited by the ultraimperialist alliance.
From a different viewpoint to that of Hilferding, Kautsky, too, pre-echoes the way many Marxists and left radical were to look at the world half a century later. Suddenly, at the height of these debates about imperialism, and in conditions where Marx’s expectations about the development of capitalism had not been fulfilled, Marxists found themselves with the responsibility of managing an economy in desperate need of development. IV A non-capitalist road? The new Bolshevik rulers of Russia took power still believing that the ransition to socialism required a high prior development of the forces of production and must be conducted at a global level. Once the hope of other European revolutions was betrayed the new communist state had to search for a means of survival and if possible progress. A short period of “war communism” characterized by almost total state control and the breakdown of regular exchange, gave way in 1921 to the less ambitious and stabilizing New Economic Policy (NEP) under which a large measure of market autonomy was restored.
Between the introduction of the NEP and Stalin’s seizure of complete power in 1928, there was a brief window in which questions of development strategy were seriously debated among Marxists. The leading protagonists were Bukharin, who increasingly leaned towards the position that the development of a capitalist agriculture was a necessary precondition for eventual industrialization and who therefore saw the more market-friendly NEP as a long term necessity, and Preobrazhensky, more sympathetic to the left opposition, who argued for a more rapid pace of industrialization, financed by squeezing a surplus out of agriculture.
In a debate which has not lost its relevance[vii], both of them were searching for a way to achieve what Marx had expected of capitalism – the creation of the material conditions for socialism; they differed about whether this would occur by imitating capitalist development or by following a novel non-capitalist route. (A debate between Marxists about similar issues took place during the early years of the Cuban revolution. [viii]) Also during the 1920s G. A. Fel’dman designed two sector models, based on Volume II of Marx’s Capital, as a method of planning a socialist economy. Ellman, 1987a). His ideas were partially incorporated into Soviet planning methods and later aroused interest outside the USSR, being influential on the early Indian planners, especially P. C. Mahalanobis, and other Marxist writers on development (Ehrlich, 1978; Chakravarty, 1987; Sen, 1987). Fel’dman was politically purged, and Bukharin and Preobrazhensky were killed when Stalin imposed “Socialism in one country”, the definitive abandonment of a universalist perspective on development.
Soviet industrialization survived the trauma of forced agricultural collectivization, the world economic crisis of the 1930s and three years of Nazi invasion. A Soviet economic model established itself consisting of highly centralized planning, virtual autarchy, high rates of investment, concentration on producer goods and heavy industry in order to build a strong industrial productive base and maximize output and consumption in the long run (Bardham, 1986). The country emerged from World War II with an enhanced industrial and technological capacity.
Soviet planning acquired a positive reputation just at a time when colonialism was collapsing and the development of poor countries was on the international agenda[ix]. Both India and China in different ways adopted aspects of the Soviet model, although it failed to transplant successfully. Nonetheless, the apparent existence of a road to industrialization which was not capitalist, was to have considerable impact on the evolution of Marxist ideas about development under capitalism. V Marxism and the Third World – polarization or convergence?
In the decades following World War II, against the chorus of optimistic modernizing developmentalism emanating from official sources in the West, a growing number of Marxists began to argue that capitalism was no longer capable of producing economic development in the poorer parts of the world. Instead it would create growing polarization between the developed and underdeveloped countries. Foretastes of this idea of imperialism for a world after decolonization had been present in Marxist writings, including even those of Marx himself, for nearly a century.
Lenin insisted that, though still progressive, capitalism in Russia was nonetheless incomplete. Hilferding came close to producing a theory of polarization. In the documents of the Third International this idea also appears at the end of the 1920s (Palma, 1978)[x] and even earlier it had a strong presence among Chinese Communists. But after the 1950s it was more emphatically asserted by influential Marxist and radical thinkers. It became enormously influential among mass movements and radical intellectuals throughout the world before strong attacks were directed gainst it by other Marxists. Its legacy is still very much alive in widespread anti-globalization sentiment. Elements of theories of inevitable polarization were already circulating among Latin American intellectuals when Paul Baran in the 1950s presented an explicitly Marxist version of it, concluding that “the capitalist system, once a mighty engine of economic development, has turned into a no less formidable hurdle to economic advancement” (Baran, 1973, p. 402; also see Baran, 1952).
The cause of the onset of monopoly capital, a new stage of the system characterized a general tendency in the major centres of capitalism to underconsumption and crisis, held at bay only by state spending, militarism and the exploitation of ethnic minorities and economically backward countries[xi]. Other theorists of polarization, by contrast, saw it as a process which had lasted through the four centuries of existence of a worldwide market, through which a privileged group of countries in the centre could transfer resources from the dominated countries of the periphery through plunder, unequal trade and later investment and indebtedness.
Particularly influential were the writings of Andre Gunder Frank which began as an attack on modernization theories exemplified by W. W. Rostow and on the anti-revolutionary perspectives of Latin American Communist Parties. Frank transformed the meaning of the word “underdevelopment” from a pre-developmental state into a consequence of world wide capitalist development. His purpose was to anatomize what he called, in a memorable phrase, “the development of underdevelopment” during centuries of capitalist history (Frank 1969 and 1991).
His name became associated with dependency theory whose influence penetrated several disciplines – economics, sociology and international relations in particular (see Kay 1989 and Larrain, 1989). An overlapping set of ideas was the world-system theory of Immanuel Wallerstein, influenced by the long-term historical outlook of Fernand Braudel (Wallerstein 1979 and 1983). Samir Amin derived polarization from an analysis of world-scale capital accumulation (Amin, 1974).
Proponents of these theories differed considerably over the extent to which development was held back by involvement in the capitalist economy. To some it meant simply impoverishment, to others a more complex and variable form of dependent development (see Evans, 1979 and Cardoso and Faletto, 1979). Most of them believed that development of the poorer countries would not be possible without some clear limit to involvement in the unequalizing capitalist world market, an idea encapsulated in the title of Samir Amir’s book, Delinking (Amin, 1990).
Many advocated protectionism, citing Friedrich List and Alexander Hamilton as positive historic precedents. Others, including Baran, saw the way out as repeating Soviet-style industrialization policies. Not all the advocates of dependency and world-systems theory saw themselves as Marxists in the way Baran had done[xii]; but most were strongly influenced by Marxism and have often been labelled “neo-Marxists” (by Hirschman, 1981 and Brewer, 1990, among others).
Like Marx, they have analysed the world in a long historical perspective, put capitalism in the centre of their analysis, found some of the causes of the process of underevelopment in Marx’s own analysis (for instance, the plunder of the wealth of poorer regions which was one element of Marx’s primary accumulation of capital), assigned some role to classes (especially the weakness of the dependent bourgeoisie), and expounded a theory of polarization between nations and continents which was arguably a transfigured version of Marx’s idea that capitalism simultaneously created wealth and poverty.
But much polarization theory stressed the divergence between countries rather than classes. While Marx saw capitalism as being progressive in spite of its barbarities, most polarization theorists have not. Lenin for one reason and later Baran for others saw the epoch of capitalism which they wrote about as having ceased to be progressive. But many dependency and world systems theorists regarded capitalism as never having been progressive.
Dependency theorists have been criticised by other Marxists for regarding capitalism as an unchanging system throughout its history. Such critics contended that dependency theory failed to recognize that it is not the market and exchange which are the essence of capitalism but productive capital producing surplus value by exploiting free labour. This leads to the erroneous location of the beginning of capitalism’s great polarization of the world in the 16th century with the emergence of worldwide markets.
Hence they ascribe the process of underdevelopment more to plunder and unequal exchange rather than to more essential features of the capitalism mode of production, and also as a result exaggerate the role of nation and underestimate the role of class in the generation of and the fight against world inequalities[xiii]. Most polarization theories, Marxist or not, assumed that the world was very different from the one which Marx had foreseen. Some critics have argued taken issue with this assumption. Post-imperialist” historians have argued that Marx’s universalization expectation, the fusion of capitalist countries into a single global system, is already a reality (Sklar, 1976; Becker et al, 1987); their focus is on the emergence of a single global capitalist class. In a more recent, widely discussed global hypothesis, Hardt and Negri assert that it is a world non-ruling class, the “multitude”, which is the most coherent offspring of globalization and the decline of states’ authorities.
Their decidedly global concept of development is implicit from their main political demands – for the totally free movement of human beings across borders and for a global guaranteed basic wage and access to welfare provisions (Hardt and Negri, 2000). The “return to Marx” proposal which has been the most influential, in part because it was a frontal attack on the polarization theorists, made with the same ringing defiance as they had attacked modernization and the Latin American Communist Parties, was that of Bill Warren, in his book provocatively titled Imperialism, Pioneer of Capitalism (Warren, 1980; also see Warren, 1973).
He argued that prospects for capitalist development were in fact good, that much of it had taken place since World War II, that colonialism had indeed broken obstacles to progressive social change as Marx had originally predicted, that the obstacles to capitalist development are not those involving relations with developed countries but those to be found “in the internal contradictions of the Third World itself”, that the policies of the developed countries in general foster rather than stifle industrialization in the underdeveloped ones, and that “the ties of ‘dependence’ (or subordination) binding the Third World and the imperialist orld have been and are being markedly loosened with the rise of indigenous capitalisms”[xiv]. In other words, he was arguing that Marx’s first thoughts remained valid and Marxist thinking about development from Lenin onwards was a saga of errors. Unlike some other critiques, Warren’s attack on dependency was in considerable part an empirical one. He stressed that the economic and social performance of the Third World was not nearly as bad as polarization theorists made out.
Although a number of seemingly impartial commentaries have accepted these conclusions (for example Booth, 1985 and Brewer, 1990), it is worth mentioning that from 1950 there was a clear divergence between developed and underdeveloped countries in aggregate until as recently as the 1990s. The average GDP per head of Africa, Latin America and Asia (excluding Japan) taken together fell as a percentage of the North (USA, Canada, EU and Japan) in every year between 1950 and 1990.
If China is excluded, it continues to fall up to the present (as calculated from Maddison, 2003). Nonetheless, if the empirical evidence which Warren relied upon in the 1970s seemed less than convincing, by the final years of the 20th century the rapid development of a number of Asian countries seemed to give solider support to his position, although others pointed out that none of the Asian success stories were based on free market capitalism but that all of them had depended on vigorous state intervention and protectionism.
Nonetheless three decades of breakneck development in China and other parts of Asia is enough to refute the idea of continuous polarization between developed and underdeveloped countries as a global generalization; equally the continued economic decline of Africa and parts of Latin America refutes the opposite hypothesis (Leys and Saul, 1999). The last two decades have been years of extremely sharp divergence not so much between developed and underdeveloped countries but between different groups of underdeveloped countries.
While the GDP per head of China (measured at purchasing power parity) has risen by 667 per cent during the years 1980 to 2004, that of Latin America by 12 per cent and that of Africa has fallen by 6 per cent (World Bank, 2005). Such a difference, over such a time, surely indicates a more complex global reality that either polarization or convergence theories assume. The dichotomy, which has ended in what has been variously described as an impasse (Booth, 1985) or mutual check-mate (Munck, 1999) needs to be transcended.
Not only are there, in what was called the Third World, contradictory development tendencies; but also the extremes are extraordinarily far apart. At one extreme is Southern Africa where not only is poverty growing, but also a high proportion of the population is infected with a fatal disease which is changing the nature of society and which has reduced life expectancy by decades. At the other is China, the location of the most important surge of capitalist industrialization which has happened in history, presided over ironically by those who, without apparent embarrassment, style themselves as Marxists.
The overall size of China’s GDP rose from 13 per cent of that of the USA in 1978, to 62 per cent in 2004 and at this rate will overtake it in a very few years (World Bank, 2005). This momentous shift in the centre of gravity of world capitalist accumulation creates echoes of the earlier Marxist propositions and debates about development. The advance of China suggests that the centre of capitalist accumulation has geographically shifted from the long developed countries. Will China (along with other Asian countries) reach the economic level of and challenge the hegemony of the USA?
Will it become an imperialist power? Will its thirst for raw materials force it to develop parts of Africa? Or will new forms of polarization occur? And what will be the role in this story of the Chinese working class? These are the questions which Marx asked about 19th century capitalist. Marxists much try to give new answers to them today. VI Utopia, production and redistribution Since the 1980s the influence of Marxism in development has declined. The neo-liberal revival and the collapse of actually existing socialism have shifted the global political balance in favour of capitalism’s friends.
But also, the long debate on imperialism had not prepared Marxism well to make major creative contributions to a number of neglected questions which have come to the fore. Major debates were, therefore, spearheaded by people of other heterodox opinions and currents, often directing their fire not only against conventional development thinking but against Marxism as well[xv]. First, feminists challenged Marxists by insisting that women’s emancipation is a task which cannot be reduced to class and development in general.
It is a central part of the struggle for and the realization of socialist utopia (for a survey of arguments see Parport et al, 2000). Second, majority opinion in environmental science is that probably the universalization of development in its most widely used meaning is physically not attainable. A number of writers, however, have begun to search for Marxist answers to this and other environmental quandaries (see Lowy, 2002; Martinez Alier, 1991; O’Connor, 1998) but it remains a minority pursuit. A third issue, which partly embraces the previous two, is the nature of the objective of development.
Polarization and convergence theories shared an implicit conception that development meant roughly what had been attained in developed countries. Convergence theorists forecast that most countries would reach the destination; polarizationists complained that they will not. Neither side incorporated a thorough critique of the economic and social nature of the destination itself. Booth criticised both for their “system teleology”; but perhaps the problem is more a shared failure to question the nature of the telos. The discussion of “human development”, launched by the UNDP in 1990, based on A.
K. Sen’s notion of “development as freedom”, was one influential but limited attempt to do this. More fundamentalist heterodox critics have scorned all conventional (including Marxist) images of the destination of development as dystopias. From post-development or even anti-development perspectives they have rejected development as an aim and have tried to outline a more modest model which often stresses small scale communities, the maintenance of traditional cultures, a balance with nature and so on. So feminists, environmentalists, post-modernists and other radical critics of ocial and economic orthodoxy have, sometimes with validity, criticized Marxist conceptions of development as no less male-, euro-centric or unsustainable than orthodoxy itself. They have forced some self-critical rethinking about the limitations of Marxist approaches to development. Yet in a sense what all these currents of thought do is to re-pose a problem central to Marx’s original thinking about development – the definition of utopia. There are serious dangers involved in concluding from the valid parts of these criticisms that the whole concept of development, in its orthodox or Marxist version, should be thrown out like old bathwater.
The baby which must be saved is Marx’s fundamental insight, picked out by Engels’ in his eulogy, that utopia must rest on an appropriate global material, economic and productive foundation. There are some elements of the often reviled, economistic modernization project which, purged of their unequal, unsustainable and imperialist form, must form a part of the journey to social emancipation. Nonetheless, human productivity is now so advanced that the forces of production are more than enough to produce all reasonable human needs if the composition and distribution of their product was different.
Yet since distribution is so unequal, these forces are in fact used on a huge scale to produce unreasonable and destructive “needs” (what some have referred to as “over-development”). If the question of development is posed, in the way Marx posed it, as how to translate capitalist productivity into socialist utopia, then the main focus of development on a world scale must now be not so much on growth but increasingly on distribution.